What is the Pupil Premium and how Effective is it?

The Pupil Premium provides extra funding to schools to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged children in England and Wales.

Both Local Education Authority Schools and Academies in England and Wales get the following Pupil Premium Funding (2022 to 2033 figures)

  • £1385 (primary) or £985 per pupil who is eligible for Free School Meals (or who has been eligible within the last six years)
  • £2410 (primary and secondary) per pupil who has been adopted from care or left care,
  • £2410 (primary and secondary) per pupil who is looked after by the Local Authority.

Payments for the first two above are paid directly to the school ( the later to the LEA) and school leaders have the freedom (and responsibility) to spend the extra funding as they see fit.

Approximately two million school children qualify for the Pupil Premium:

How the Government expects schools to spend the Pupil Premium?

There are three suggested areas:

  1. General teaching – school leaders are allowed to just spend money from the Pupil Premium on recruiting more teachers or support staff, or training.
  2. Targeted Support for disadvantage pupils – this is probably what you imagine the funding being spent on – things such as extra tuition in small groups for specific children, probably those who generate the Pupil Premium
  3. Wider areas – such as Breakfast Clubs or helping fund the cost of educational trips

Accountability…

Schools are required to publish online statements outlining how they have spent their Pupil Premium Funding.

Pupil Premium: The Theory

The pupil premium is the main government policy to tackle the educational underachievement ‘caused’ by material deprivation.   

This educational policy recognises the fact that children from disadvantage backgrounds face more challenges and achieve lower grades than children from more affluent backgrounds.

Children who are eligible for Free School Meals are from the lowest 15 – 20% of households by income, so they will probably be living in relative poverty, and some of them will be experience material deprivation.

The government gives most of the money straight to the schools with such disadvantaged children, allowing school leaders to pick a strategy that they think will work best for their school, as one solution won’t work for every school!

The Pupil Premium: Does it Work?

This 2021 Parliament Briefing summarises seven reports on the attainment gap and the effectiveness (or lack of it) of the Pupil Premium.

On the positive side, it notes that the attainment gap (between disadvantaged and non disadvantaged children) has come down in the last ten years, since the Pupil Premium was introduced, BUT this trend alone doesn’t necessarily mean it was the Pupil Premium which led to this.

Moreover, the report notes that the recent school closures following the government’s choice to lockdown the nation as a response to the Pandemic have almost certainly impacted disadvantaged children more, and it’s unlikely that the Pupil Premium will be sufficient to make up for this.

Besides this vaguely positive note, there is a lot of criticism of the Pupil Premium too, and four  stand out:

  • Firstly, a lot of schools are spending the money to plug gaps in school funding, so not targeting it at disadvantaged students, but just spending it on general school needs.
  • Secondly, many reports point out that lack of school funding is the problem and the Pupil Premium doesn’t make up for this.
  • Thirdly, a lot of the money, where targeted, is being spend on Learning Assistants, but apparently this isn’t the most efficient way to help disadvantaged students.
  • Finally, some reports criticise the accountability aspect, schools don’t have to be too specific in outlining how they spend the money.

Links to A-level Sociology

This is relevant to educational policies and can be used to evaluate New Right approaches to education as the Pupil Premium was first introduced by the Right Wing Coalition Government.

It is also relevant to the education and social class topic, but be careful as the Pupil Premium is only designed to tackle material deprivation, not class inequalities or differences more broadly, and relative deprivation/ material deprivation are only one aspect of the more broader concept of social class.  

Find out More

The Pupil Premium government webpage

The Pupil Premium Briefing Paper, House of Commons Library, March 2021

Social Exclusion in British Tennis

So we’ve got a new Wimbledon Champion in waiting in the form of Emma Radacanu – but don’t get too excited, she doesn’t break the trend of the English Middle Class Norm. .

For a start, Radacanu grew up and started playing tennis in Canada, where social class is much less entrenched, and in any case her mother (Chinese) and farther (Romanian), neither of whom are from Britain originally, and both of whom work in Finance, are firmly part of the global middle class, who just happen to be resident in Britain ATM.

So she just carries on the middle-class tradition in British Tennis…. all the way back as far as I can remember until Tim Henman who was quintissentially middle class – home counties, dad a solicitor, privately educated, own tennis court in his back garden.

No, it seems that elite tennis just isn’t for the working classes.

There’s an interesting study from 2008 that explored why this is: Social Exclusion in British Tennis: A History of Privilege and Prejudice.

It explores the history using a literature review and ethnography in one local tennis club, and it’s the later I find the most interesting.

The author found that members of the club would enforce a set of social norms beyond playing the game that worked to exclude non established members – for example it was frowned upon to not have a drink after a game, but in the bar established members rarely spoke to newer members.

Appropriate etiquette was also a big deal, meaning appropriate middle class norms of behaviour.

It’s noted that the grass courts were kept open for any member and their children to be able to play on during the summer, but these were heavily policed by senior middle class women, and children had the lowest status in the club, they were hardly encouraged to play.

The ethnography doesn’t extend to professional tennis, which may well be class-neutral, but the point is, tennis clubs are one of the few means whereby people without their own tennis courts at home are going to be able to get into tennis, and this local tennis club blocked ordinary children from being able to do this.

The primary function of this club seemed to be for middle class women to exercise their power and status over others, through ignoring and excluding those they deemed to be inferior, which was pretty much anyone not like them.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is quite useful for illustrating aspects of cultural capital theory and yet another reminder of how social class permeates so many aspects of British life.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Why has the Achievement Gap Between Private and State Schools Increased?

Possible explanations include less disruption to schooling, more parental pressure and higher prior attainment

Teachers in private schools awarded 70% of A-level entries A or A* grades in 2021, compared to just 45% for all exam entries across both state and private schools.

And the proportion of top grades awarded to candidates from private schools increased at a faster rate than for state schools – the A/ A* rate rose by 9% in 2021 compared to 2020 in private schools, but only by 6% elsewhere.

Why have private school candidates improved at a faster rate than state school candidates?

This article from The Guardian suggests that there are three possible reasons for the rapid improvement of private school pupils.

  • Private school students’ learning may have been less disrupted by school closures and forced isolation for individual students than was the case with state schools – private schools generally have smaller class sizes than state schools and so it would be easier for teachers to manage online learning and classroom learning at the same time.
  • Middle class parents may have been better able to home-school their children during school closures due to their higher levels of cultural capital.
  • Teachers in private schools may have been under more pressure from paying parents to inflate their children’s grades – this may not even be conscious, but parents are paying for a service, and if the teachers don’t deliver when they have the opportunity to do so (when THEY determine the grades, not the examiners), this could make the parents question what they are spending their money on?!?
  • The difference might also be due to the higher prior levels of learning among privately schooled students – state school students simply may have got further behind because of year 1 of disruption the year before, and this is an accumulative affect.

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This update has clear links to the sociology of education, especially the topic on social class and educational achievement, fitting in quite nicely as supporting evidence for how material and cultural capital advantages students from wealthier backgrounds.

It should also be of interest to any state school student who generally likes to feel enraged by social injustice.

Poverty is the Main ‘Cause’ of Youth Violent Crime in London……

A recent 2019 study into the causes of violent crime in London found that the proportion of children under 20 living in poverty was the main factor correlated with levels youth violent crime in London Boroughs.

This is an important update for the A-level Sociology Crime and Deviance module.

The study was conducted in 2019 by the Greater London Authority, and it took a public health approach to analysing the ’causes’ of increasing levels of youth violence in London from 2013-2017.

Defining and measuring violent crime

The study took a broad, multi agency approach to defining and measuring violent crime. ‘mapping’ their definitions of violent crimes here:

They also used many different sources to identify the upward trend in violent crime, such as hospital admissions for knife attacks, given that so many of these go unreported…

If you know anything about London, it’s already obvious from this chart that it’s the poorest areas such as Hackney and Croydon with the highest rates of youth violence, and the richest areas such as Chelsea with the lowest…

The main ’causes’ of youth violence

The study did a borough wide analysis, as the stats for violent crime were by borough, and found that all of the boroughs in the top ten for youth violent crime also had above average amounts of under 20 year olds living in poverty.

The main factors correlated with youth violence, in order of importance were as follows:

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a useful update for social class and crime: poverty may only be one aspect of social class, but this study does suggest that more violent crime is committed by the working classes.

This study seems to offer broad support for Left Realism – deprivation and marginalisation register as being highly correlated with levels of youth violence.

Limitations of this study

  • Already, two years on, the data is four years old, as it only goes up 2019. In this online age, this should have been organised via an Artificial Intelligence so the data is updating automatically!
  • This only focuses on Youth violence, not crime more generally, so it is not representative of all crime.
  • Marxists might criticise the study as having narrow definitions of violence, focussing only on street violence and domestic violence, rather than the state-sponsored military violence instigated from the borough of Westminster.
  • This study might be a little biased – it seems to be coming from a Left Realist Perspective on crime, and (funnily enough) supports a Left Realist view of crime!

References

You can read the full report here: Progressing a Public Health Approach to Reducing Violence, 2019.

Only 18% of Senior Civil Servants are from ‘Working Class’ Backgrounds

A recent study from the Social Mobility Commission found that only 18% Senior Civil Servants are from lower social class backgrounds, what we might traditionally call ‘working class’ backgrounds’, and this is down from 19% in 1967!

The majority of senior civil servants are from privileged, higher social economic backgrounds, many having benefited from an independent (private school) education.

The proportion of employees from low social economic backgrounds varies a lot according to role, region and department.

For example, 40% of those those working in operational roles, delivering services are from lower SEBs compared to just 19% working in policy (policy jobs tend to be more prestigious).

And only 12% of people working in the Treasury are from low SEBs compared to 45% working in ‘work and pensions’.

And 22% of of London based civil servants come from low SEBs compared to 48% working in the North East.

The report is based on a survey of 300 00 civil servants so is very representative and 100 hour long interviews to explore why there is such a class divide in the senior ranks.

Why are the working classes underrepresented in the senior civil service?

The title of report points to an explanation – it is called ‘Navigating the labyrinth’ for a reason.

The authors put it down to a number of ‘hidden rules’ surrounding career progression in the civil service which create cumulative barriers that make it more difficult for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to make it into the Civil Service.

For example, there are some roles within the civil service that act as career accelerators but getting into these roles depends on who you know, such as having access to already senior staff and ministers, and those from lower SEBs lack this kind of in-house social capital.

There are also dominant behavioural codes within the senior civil service, which those from higher SEBs are more familiar with, they come naturally to them, one aspect of this is ‘studied neutrality’

The report describes Studied neutrality as having three key dimensions:

  1. a received pronunciation (RP) accent and style of speech
  2. emotionally detachment and an understated self-presentation
  3. prizing the display of in-depth knowledge for its own sake (and not directly related to work).

On the later point, some of the lower SEB interviewees in the study mentioned that there is a lot of talking in Latin, which many senior staff would break into sometimes during meetings, far from necessary from doing the job!

A final factor is that those from SEB backgrounds are more likely to specialise in a particular career path, which isn’t necessary for career progression.

Does the class divide in the senior civil service matter?

According to those in the senior service, no it doesn’t, because they see themselves as ‘neutral advisors’.

However, from a more Marxist point of view clearly it does! Just from a social justice perspective we have here a classic example of cultural capital blocking those from lower social backgrounds progressing to more senior positions, and those with cultural capital (from higher economic backgrounds) having an advantage.

And, despite claims to neutrality it’s unlikely that those from privileged backgrounds are going to advise on policies which promote more social justice and greater social mobility as that would be undermining the advantage they and their children have with the status quo!

Social class and educational achievement statistics

The relationship between social class and educational achievement is one of the main topics within the sociology of education at A level.

The problem is, the government does not routinely collect statistics on the relationship between social class and educational achievement!

Instead, we have to reply on statistics which look at the relationship between household income and educational achievement, rather than the relationship between social class and educational achievement.

Household income is related to social class, but income alone does not tell us exactly which social class someone is from. Some parents might work in traditionally ‘working-class’ jobs which could be very well paid, such as the building trades; while other parents might be earning a limited amount of money working part-time in traditionally middle-class jobs – as private music teachers for example.

Also, income does not necessarily tell us about the cultural aspects of class – how well educated parents are or how much social and cultural capital they have, for example.

Thus you must remember that household income indicators are only proxies for social class, they may not show us precisely what a child’s social class background is.

Two sources we might use to to examine the relationship between social class and educational achievement are:

  • Free School Meal (FSM) achievement rates compare to non FSM achievement rates
  • Data on independent school results compared to government schools results.

The Achievement of Pupils Eligible for Free School Meals

Three is a 13.7% achievement gap in the ‘attainment 8’ scores of pupils eligible for Free School Meals compared to non-FSM pupils

In 2019 parents in households with a gross annual income of no more than £16190 were entitled to claim for Free School Meals. (Source).

This means that approximately the poorest 1/6th of households are eligible, so the above statistics are comparing the results of children from the poorest 1/6th of households with the richest 5/6ths all lumped into one.

One limitation with the above statistics is that if you were to stretch this comparison out and compare the poorest 1/6th with the next poorest 1/6th and so on up to the riches 1/6th, you would probably see much starker differences.

Independent School Results Compared to State Schools

If we look at the top 10 independent school results compared to the top 10 state schools, we see quite a difference in results.

In order to be able to pay the fees to get your children into an independent school, you have to be comfortably in the top 10% of households. There are a few scholarships for pupils from poorer households, but not in significant numbers!

Top 10 independent schools

Top 10 state schools

You can see a clear 8-9% difference in achievement in favour of the fee-paying independent schools.

One advantage of the above stats is that it’s much more likely that you’re seeing the solidly upper middle class in these schools, rather than this just being about income.

However, we are only talking about the the top 5-10% of the social class scale, we are not able to make social class comparisons more broadly.

Conclusions

If we use the above data, we can see there is a drastic difference in the achievement rates at the very top and the very bottom of the household income scales.

IF we think household income is a valid indicator of social class, we can also say there are huge social class differences in educational achievement based on the above statistics.

However, we don’t have systematic, annual data on the relationship between the vast majority of middle income households and educational achievement.

Sources

DFE Education Statistics

The Extent of Material Deprivation in the UK

2019 statistics show a decline in the number of households in material deprivation

Material deprivation* refers to the inability to afford basic resources and services such as sufficient food and heating.

To put it more simply, all of those who suffer material deprivation in the UK  exist in a state of relative poverty, and some may exist in a state of absolute poverty.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) recent publication: Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK: 2019 is a good source informing us about the extent of material deprivation in the UK today. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that “families are classified as materially deprived if they feel they cannot afford a certain number of items or activities, with greater weight assigned to items that most families already have.”

According to the IFS, between 8-15% of households are suffering from material deprivation, depending on what threshold you use. (If you want to know how the thresholds are worked, out click on the link above!).

In order to figure out how many households are suffering material deprivation, households are asked whether they can afford a number of items, such as the ones below. The more items a family can’t afford, and the higher up the list they appear in the chart below, the more likely a family is to be classified as ‘materially deprived’.

You can see that there is a downward trend in material deprivation between 2010-11 (careful, the chart above is over a longer time scale!)

Related concepts

The above study focuses on the trends in material deprivation as well as trends in both absolute and relative poverty. All three indicators are different ways of measuring poverty.

Related Posts 

Evaluating the Extent of Material Deprivation in the UK

The effects of material deprivation on education

Something Extra…

*A fuller definition of material deprivation is provided by the The OECD which defines Material deprivation as ‘the inability for individuals or households to afford those consumption goods and activities that are typical in a society at a given point in time, irrespective of people’s preferences with respect to these items.’ It’s work noting at this point that this is a relative rather than an absolute measurement of poverty.

Historical Material

I wrote this back in 2015, it’s my old version that I didn’t want to delete! It shows you some different, historical definitions/ measurement of material deprivation

The government’s material deprivation rate measures the proportion of the population that cannot afford at least four of the following items:

  1. To pay their rent, mortgage, utility bills or loan repayments,
  2. To keep their home adequately warm,
  3. To face unexpected financial expenses,
  4. To eat meat or protein regularly,
  5. To go on holiday for a week once a year,
  6. A television set,
  7. A washing machine,
  8. A car,
  9. A telephone.

As can be seen from the statistics below, the number of people suffering from ‘severe’ material deprivation has remained stable in recent years, but the numbers of people struggling to pay for holidays and meet emergency expenses has increased. Percentage of population unable to afford items, UK 2005-2011

The Celebrity Boat Race – Screamingly Upper Middle Class

The over-representation of the upper middle classes in charity sporting events

I was unfortunate enough to catch an A BBC Breakfast item on the celebrity boat race for Sports Relief on Wednesday.

This featured Louis Minchin interviewing some other celebrities and James Cracknell about the upcoming charity boat race in which four teams from BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky will be competing to raise money for mental health charities.

An mostly upper middle class celebrity love-in…

Now I know rowing is traditionally associated with independent schools, as are media celebrities, and I detected a distinct upper middle class twang going around the self-congratulatory interviews. This made me wonder what the class background of the boat race celebs was.

Given that 6-7% of the population is independently schooled, I did a quick trawl to figure out how over-represented (if at all) the upper middle classes are in this event.

A note on the methods

I simply looked up the celebs on Wikipedia, and about half had information about their schooling, in one case (Rachel Parris) the school had information on her.

NB there are some data gaps below, and I stopped at 50% as I’ve only got so many hours in the day….

Team BBC – at least 33% Independently schooled, 4* over-represented compared to the national average.

  • Louise Minchin –  privately not educated at St Mary’s School, Ascot
  • Steve Backshall – unknown, but brought up in a smallholding in Bagshot, Surrey which suggests a reasonably wealthy background
  • Maya Jama – educated at Cotham school (not independent)
  • Michael Stevenson – unknown
  • Jay Blades – probably not privately educated, as from Hackney
  • Rachel Parris – independently educated at Loughborough selective school

Team ITV – probably 50% privately educated, or about 8* over-represented

  • Matt Evers – don’t know (N/B American)  
  • Colson Smith – don’t know
  • Isabel Hodgins – independently educated at the Sylvia Young Theatre School
  • Dr Ranj Singh – don’t know
  • Andrea Mclean – probably independently educated, brought up in Trinidad and Tobago
  • Romilly Weeks  – she’s a Royal Correspondent and lives in London, so almost certainly independently educated.

Analysis – actually not bad social class representation, for the media.

I’d had enough of digging after 12 celebs, so I’m basing this on a 50% sample.

  • Approximately 45% of the celebs are independently educated, which means the independently schooled are about 7* over-represented compared to what they should be.
  • Having said that, the independently schooled make up more than 60% of media professionals so this boat race line up is actually MORE representative of the working classes than might be expected.
  • Based on my sample ALL the white women have been independently educated. Minority women and men are more likely to (probably) be from a working class background).

I’ve rounded up as the two British Olympic rowers are also independently schooled: James Cracknell and Helen Glover (in fairness on a sports scholarship).

Jame Cracknell – An upper middle class jaw jaw?

Over to you for some further research

NB, over to you if you want to do some further research, I’ve included the C4 and Sky teams below. I’d be surprised if they didn’t have similar percentages.

Let me know in the comments if these findings are generalisable!

Team Channel 4

  • Jamie Laing
  • Cathy Newman
  • Chelsee Healey
  • Amanda Byram
  • Tom Read Wilson
  • Ed Jackson

Team Sky

  • Dermot Murnaghan
  • Natalie Pinkham
  • Hayley McQueen
  • Lloyd Griffith
  • Nazaneen Ghaffar
  • Carl Froch

Media representations of social class

How are different social classes represented in the mainstream media? 

This post looks at how the monarchy, the wealthy, the middle classes, working classes and benefits claimaints (‘the underclass’) are represented, focusing mainly on British television and newspaper coverage.

Generally speaking the ‘lower’ the social class, the more negative the media representations are, arguably because the mainstream media professionals disproportionately come from upper middle class backgrounds.

NB Social class is  a tricky concept and you might like to review it here before continuing.

Media representations of social class.png

Representations of the Monarchy

According to Nairn (2019) after WWII the monarchy developed close ties with the media industry and worked with them to reinvent itself as ‘the royal family’ and since then they have been represented in the media as a family that are ‘like us but not like us’, and the narrative of their lives is presented as a soap opera, and is part of our day to day media fabric, which encourages us to identify with the royals.

Media representations of royalty also reinforce a sense of national identity: The Queen is the ultimate figure head of the country and royal events form part of our annual calendar, as well as the fact that royals are often in attendance at other national events, such as sporting events for example.

Media representations of wealth

The very wealthy are generally represented positively in the media, for example Alan Sugar and the Dragons on Dragons Den.

The constant media focus on the lifestyles of wealthy celebrities tends to glamourize such lifestyles, suggesting this is something we should all be aspiring to, rather than focusing on the injustice of how much these people are paid compared to ordinary people.

representations wealth media.PNG
Are the wealthy generally represented positively in the media?

The Middle Classes

Middle class (higher income) families seem to be over-represented on day time T.V. especially – in shows such as homes under the hammer, escape to the country and antiques shows featuring typically very high wealth/ income families, and yet presenting them as ‘the norm’.

Most T.V. presenters are middle class, and so they are more likely to identify with middle class guests compared to working class guests, reinforcing the concerns of former as more worthy of attention.

Most journalists and editors are privately educated which means that the news agenda is framed from a middle class point of views.

The working classes

There are relatively few shows which focus on the reality of the lives of working class people.

Mainstream soaps tend to be the most watched representations of the working classes

Jones (2011) suggests the working classes are represented as feckless racists who hate immigration and multiculturalism – coverage of Brexit seems to offer support for this.

Benefits claimants (‘The Underlcass’)

Coverage tends to focus on the poverty of individuals rather than the structural features of society such as government policy which created the underclass.

Media coverage of the underclass is generally negative and they are often scapegoated for society’s problems. Benefits Street is a good example of this.

Please see this extended post for more details on how the media portray benefits claimants in stereotypical ways.

 

 

Media representations of benefits claimants

In this post I summarize some recent sociological research which suggests newspapers and ‘reality T.V. shows represent benefits claimants in a limited range of stereotypical ways, focusing on them as lazy, undeserving scroungers engaged in immoral, wreckless and criminal behaviour.

A lot of the research below also reminds us that media representations in no way reflect the reality of being unemployed and claiming benefits in the UK.

This research is relevant to the A-level sociology media topic: representations of social class.

Stereotypes of benefits claimants in newspaper articles 

Baumberg et al’s (2012) research ‘Benefits Stigma in Britain’ analysed a database of 6,600 national press articles between 1995-2011.

Baumberg et al found an extraordinarily disproportionate focus on benefit fraud: 29% of news stories referenced fraud. In comparison the government’s own estimate is that a mere 0.7% of all benefits claims are fraudulent.

Common language used to describe benefits as ‘undeserving’ included:

  • Fraud and dishonesty (including those such as ‘faking illness’);
  • Dependency (including ‘underclass’ and ‘unemployable’);
  • non-reciprocity/lack of effort (e.g. ‘handouts’, ‘something for nothing’, ‘lazy’, ‘scrounger’); •
  • outsider status (e.g. ‘immigrant’, ‘obese’)

Language used to describe benefits claimants as ‘deserving’ included:

  • need (‘vulnerable’, ‘hard-pressed’);
  • disability (‘disabled’, ‘disability’).

In general, Tabloid newspapers such (especially The Sun) focused on representing benefits claimants as undeserving, while broadsheets such as The Guardian were more likely to focus on representing benefits claimants as ‘deserving’.

news reporting unemployment.jpg

NB – The Sun and The Mail are Britain’s two most widely circulated newspapers. 

Stigmatising benefits claimants

Finally, the study found an increase in articles about benefits claimants which focused on the following stigmatising themes:

  • fraud
  • ‘shouldn’t be claiming’ (for reasons other than fraud)
  • never worked/hasn’t worked for a very long time
  • large families on benefits
  • bad parenting/antisocial behaviour of families on benefits
  • claimants better off on benefits than if they were working
  • claimants better off than workers
  • immigrants claiming benefits

More neutral/ positive themes included:

  • compulsion of claimants (e.g. workfare, benefit conditionality)
  • cuts to benefits
  • need

As with the themes of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, Tabloids produced more stigmatising content than the the broadsheets.

negative reporting benefits claimants.jpg

Stereotypes of benefits claimants in reality T.V. shows 

Ruth Patrick (2017) has analysed the representations of those on benefits and in poverty on reality television shows such as ‘Benefits Street’ and Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole.

The number of such shows has exploded in recent years, but while they claim to provide and honest ‘realistic’ insight into  lives of Britain’s benefit claimants and those living in poverty, Patrick and others argue they are sensationalised and present stereotypical representations of those on welfare.

If we look at the opening scenes for the first series of Benefits Street for example, these featured:

  • sofas on the pavement,
  • men on streets drinking cans of lager,
  • women smoking cigarettes on their doorsteps.

Overall such shows present benefits claimants as lazy shirkers who don’t want to work, and as people who are different to the hard-working majority.

Such shows emphasize the difference between the working majority (‘us’) and the workless minority (‘them’) and invites us to identify ourselves against benefits claimants, and possibly to see claiming benefits as something which is a choice, long term and morally wrong, rather than as something which is a necessity, usually a short term stop-gap before a return work.

This interview with Jordan, who took feature in Benefits Britain as a claimant offers an insight into how negative representations of the unemployed are socially constructed by media professionals:

Jordan claims that he usually keeps his flat tidy, but was told by the producers to deliberately not tidy it up before they came round to shoot, because it would make people feel more sorry for him.

He also claims that the media crew bought alcohol and cigarettes for the shoot, and told the ‘claimants’ that if they didn’t consume them before the shoot was over they’d take them away again, which led to lots of images of the cast drinking and smoking, when Jordan claims he would only usually do this on special occasions.

Relevance of this to A-level Sociology/ Media studies….

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that newspapers and ‘reality’ T.V. present you with the reality of ‘life on benefits’ – in fact both of these sources present highly sensationalised accounts of what it’s like to actually be unemployed.

All of the above research is based on careful content analysis which picks out the main ways in which benefits claimants are stereotyped and thus represented in a limited way.

This post has only focused on representations, forthcoming posts will focus on why mainstream media professionals choose to represent benefits claimants in negative, stereotypical ways.

Sources 

 

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